Beneath the top layer of your tooth (the enamel) and the second layer (the dentin), there is a pulp, or nerve, which delivers sensations such as heat, cold, and pain to the brain. Whether from excessive decay or physical trauma, this nerve can become damaged, causing an abscess to form at the root of the tooth. Your dentist has recommended root canal therapy, a procedure in which the diseased pulp is removed from an infected tooth, to prevent further damage and tooth loss, and most importantly, to relieve your pain.
Symptoms of an infected root include severe toothaches, sensitivity, discoloration, and upraised lesions on your gums. X-rays and a thorough dental examination determines whether a root canal your best option. Though root canal therapy has a reputation for being painful, the toothaches associated with an infected root are most likely causing you more pain than the treatment will. In addition, there are a number of ways to relieve pain and discomfort, including nitrous oxide and oral sedation.
The nerve is not vitally important for day-to-day function, so removing it will not affect your tooth—unless you count saving the tooth from total loss! In fact, allowing it to decay further can lead to more pain and bone loss. Usually, an over the counter pain medication takes care of immediate post-operative discomfort, and most patients return to normal activities the very next day. Root canal therapy is highly successful, and a tooth receiving the treatment can last you a lifetime. Especially when used in conjunction with a restoration (a crown or composite filling), no one will even notice a difference in your smile.